Foreign Persons Must Report U.S. Agricultural Land Holdings

The Executive Director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) in Greensville County, Melvin E. Hill, Jr., CED, reminds foreign persons with an interest in agricultural lands in the United States that they are required to report their holdings and any transactions to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

Any foreign person who acquires, transfers or holds any interest, other than a security interest, including leaseholds of 10 years or more, in agricultural land in the United States is required by law to report the transaction no later than 90 days after the date of the transaction.

Foreign investors must file Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA) reports with the FSA county office that maintains reports for the county where the land is located.

Failure to file a report, filing a late report or filing an inaccurate report can result in a penalty with fines up to 25 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land

For AFIDA purposes, agricultural land is defined as any land used for farming, ranching or timber production, if the tracts total 10 acres or more.

Disclosure reports are also required when there are changes in land use. For example, reports are required when land use changes from nonagricultural to agricultural or from agricultural to nonagricultural. Foreign investors must also file a report when there is a change in the status of ownership such as the owner changes from foreign to non-foreign, from non-foreign to foreign or from foreign to foreign.

Data gained from these disclosures is used to prepare an annual report to the President and Congress concerning the effect of such holdings upon family farms and rural communities in the United States.

For more information regarding AFIDA and FSA programs, contact the Greensville County FSA office at 434-634-2462 or visit the USDA website at http://www.usda.gov.

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Improvement Association Celebrates Go Red for Women

The Improvement Association’s staff, Jacqueline Ricks, Education Coordinator; Karlesha Hines, Health and Disabilities Coordinator; and Alice Harris, Teacher; “Go Red.”

According to www.goredforwomen.org, cardiovascular disease claimed the lives of nearly 500,000 American women each year. In order to dispel the myths and raise awareness of heart disease and strokes as the number one killer of women, the American Heart Association created Go Red for Women, a social initiative designed to empower women to take charge of their heart health.

In an effort to show their support, The Improvement Association students and staff wore red on Feb. 3 and is using the month of February to focus on heart health. Kerri Combs, a nurse with Cardiac Rehab at Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center, will be speaking at this month’s Health Advisory meeting on Feb. 15. Additionally, The Improvement Association’s registered dietician, Hayley Billingsley, will speak about healthy body mass indexes (BMI) and healthy eating.

The Improvement Association’s Head Start is now accepting applications for the 2017-2018 program year. Please contact our office at 434-634-2490.

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Bishops join to pray for unity in the commonwealth

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – As the General Assembly starts the second half of its 2017 session, Virginia’s two Catholic bishops joined together Thursday to offer an evening prayer for the commonwealth, urging people to treat each other with respect even when they disagree.

On a cold evening, people of all faiths gathered at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart for the Virginia Vespers service, which was led by Michael Francis Burbidge, bishop of the Diocese of Arlington, and Francis Xavier DiLorenzo, his counterpart for the Diocese of Richmond.

The evening’s message was unity. Burbridge discussed not only loving thy neighbor but also respecting them.

“No matter how harsh the political climate can get, we are called to recognize the dignity of each other,” Burbridge said.

He said respect includes speaking to each other without “name calling” or “generalizations.” The bishop said one of the most important things that Pope Frances is teaching the world is how to dialogue.

“He’s trying to remind us that it is OK within the church, within politics, to have different opinions,” Burbridge said. “But are we really listening to one another? Do we know how to listen to one another? Do we know how to respect one another? Quite frankly, it’s what our political world is in need of right now.”

That message struck a chord with the audience, which included several state lawmakers and other public officials. This is the second year that the state’s two Catholic dioceses have held the Virginia Vespers, timed with the midpoint of the legislative session.

Sen. Glen H. Sturtevant, R-Midlothian, was one of the legislators in attendance.

“I think it’s doing things like this that help folks come together,” Sturtevant said. “Whether you’re Republican or Democrat, my experience is most people want to find ways where they can compromise. We can always do better to be constructive when we disagree. You can disagree without being disagreeable.”

The evening wasn’t just about state politics. Burbridge also made a reference to President Donald Trump’s ban against admitting refugees as well as visitors and immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries. Trump has said that the ban is temporary and that it is a necessary step to keep terrorists from entering the United States.

The Arlington bishop quoted Pope Francis as saying, “To change the world, we must be good to those who cannot repay us.”

“The Lord teaches us every man and woman and child, whether they be refugees or immigrants – they all merit our respect,” Burbridge said.


Senate OKs bill to expand concealed handgun permits

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia Senate has approved a bill that would allow members of the military to apply for and receive concealed handgun permits at age 18.

House Bill 1582, introduced by Del. Jeff Campbell, R-Marion, passed the Senate by a vote of 24-15 on Wednesday. It originally passed the House of Delegates on a 78-19 vote on Jan. 18.

The bill now goes to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for his signature. McAuliffe has not announced his stance on the legislation. He will review it once the bill reaches his desk, according to Sam Coleman, a press aide.

If signed into law, the bill would allow active-duty members of the military and those with honorable discharges between the ages of 18 and 21 to receive concealed handgun permits, provided they have completed basic training. Under current Virginia law, no one under the age of 21 is eligible for a permit.

While it is currently illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase a handgun from a licensed firearm dealer, Virginians between the ages of 18 and 21 can legally buy a handgun in a private sale or receive one as a gift.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, cited that reason in opposing the bill during its discussion on the House floor last month.

“We don’t think it’s smart to let 18- and 19- and 20-year-olds who can’t legally purchase a firearm from carrying concealed,” he said when the bill was debated.

Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, disagreed with Simon’s characterization.

“I see no harm at all in trusting young men and women who were ready to give their lives for our freedom” to have a concealed handgun permit, he said.

Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, echoed Lingamfelter’s statements.

“We don’t seem to have any problem putting a gun in their hands when they’re going to go overseas to get shot at,” he said. “So this whole idea that we can’t trust them when they come back to exercise the very constitutional amendment they went overseas to defend seems a little bit ridiculous to me.”

Campbell also said the bill would increase concealed-handgun permit reciprocity with other states.

Currently, Virginia permits are recognized throughout the Southeast except in Georgia. Campbell said his bill would change that by “removing the sole impediment to recognition of Virginia concealed carry permit holders by the state of Georgia,” thereby granting permit holders full passage throughout the southern I-95 corridor.

“As a practical matter, this is a good bill for those of us who like to travel out of state on the East Coast,” Lingamfelter said.

Campbell said the bill is another step toward his party’s goal of concealed handgun permit reciprocity across all 50 states. Currently, Virginia permits are recognized in 32 states.

Simon said he feared that in expanding reciprocity, Virginia may be headed down a slippery slope.

“We’re going to have to lower our standards in state after state after state to make sure that our laws are just as generous to concealed carry permit holders and that we have the lowest standards of any state in the country,” Simon said. “It is the first step in having us liberalize our concealed carry permits to go to the lowest common denominator.”

Permit reciprocity has been a hot-button issue among Virginia officials over the past year. In December 2015, Attorney General Mark Herring revoked Virginia’s permit reciprocity agreements with 25 states.

However, during its 2016 session, the General Assembly passed legislation reversing Herring’s decision and restoring all previous reciprocity agreements.

Since the election of President Donald Trump, the issue of permit reciprocity has risen to prominence at the federal level.

Last month, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., introduced HR 38, otherwise known as the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, to the 115th Congress.

Hudson’s proposal would force all 50 states to recognize permits from all other states. The bill is awaiting hearing in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

How they voted:

Here is how the Senate voted Wednesday on HB 1582 (“Concealed handgun permits; age requirement for persons on active military duty”).

Floor: 02/08/17 Senate: Passed Senate (24-Y 15-N)

YEAS – Black, Carrico, Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Edwards, Hanger, Lewis, Mason, McDougle, McPike, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Reeves, Ruff, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Suetterlein, Vogel – 24.

NAYS – Barker, Dance, Deeds, Ebbin, Favola, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, McClellan, Petersen, Saslaw, Spruill, Surovell, Wexton – 15.

NOT VOTING – Wagner – 1.

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Documentary reveals life in solitary confinement

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The desperate screams of inmates and the thundering sound of bodies thrown against locked doors echo disturbingly through the cavernous halls of Red Onion State Prison in HBO’s new documentary, “SOLITARY: Inside Red Onion State Prison.”

The film shines a light into the lives of both prisoners and guards at one of Virginia’s largest supermax prisons.

The American Civil Liberties Union hosted a screening of the documentary Wednesday night at the Virginia Historical Society, followed by a panel discussion featuring the movie’s director, a man who was held in solitary confinement, and a woman whose son is imprisoned at Red Onion.

“Long-term solitary confinement, we believe, is cruel and unusual punishment, and that violates the Eighth Amendment of our Constitution,” said Hope Amezquita, staff attorney and legislative counsel for the ACLU of Virginia.

At Red Onion State Prison, inmates in solitary confinement spend 23 hours of every day in a cell measuring 8 by 10 feet, according to the film.Their rooms hold only the basic necessities, and the windows facing the outside are frosted over.

There, inmates are left alone with their thoughts and the disembodied screams of their fellow prisoners. Their only human contact is shouting at corrections officers on the other side of the door and whispering through the air vents to prisoners in nearby cells.

“The film was tough to watch, to be honest. There were so many pieces of the film that I honestly left back with me in some of those prisons,” said Marcus Bullock, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for a carjacking at age 15. Marcus said hewas held in isolation for several months during his incarceration at Fairfax County Jail. “I remember yelling through the vent – that was our telephone system.”

About 67,500 people – more than 5 percent of all prisoners in the U.S. – are being held in solitary confinement, according to a 2016 national report by the Association of State Correctional Administrators and the Arthur Liman Program at Yale Law School.

Virginia is one of the 44 states that uses solitary confinement, through the Virginia Department of Corrections prefers the term “segregated housing.” Last year, the state reported holding 854 people, or about 3 percent of the incarcerated population of Virginia, in segregated housing.

The HBO documentary puts a human face to these statistics by focusing on the personal stories of a handful of prisoners and corrections officers at Red Onion State Prison. Their stories are hard to watch and difficult to comprehend, because viewers find themselves sympathizing with criminals and with the people who keep them locked up at the same time.

The film addresses the deep psychological toll that the environment at a supermax prison like Red Onion has on prisoners and guards alike. In one interview, Dennis Webb, a prisoner who was sent to Red Onion for stabbing his former warden, said he didn’t have any mental problems until he was put in segregation.

“When I don’t take my medication, I cut all over myself. That’s what segregation did to me,” Webb said. “Keeping me in segregation the rest of my life is a death sentence.”

Correctional officers at the prison are shown to be under enormous stress because of the dangerous nature of their work. Several officers spoke about becoming gradually desensitized to the prison environment and looking at their work as “just a job.”

According to the U.S. Justice Department, Red Onion State Prison opened in 1998 to house the increasing number of inmates the Virginia Department of Corrections had been placing in administrative segregation. For years, the overwhelming majority of the prison’s population were held in segregation, until state officials began to recognize the challenges that long-term administrative segregation posed, including the deterioration of inmates’ mental health, negative effects on staff morale and high costs.

In 2011, the Department of Corrections began implementing reforms at Red Onion that shifted the goal of the facility from keeping prisoners locked up to providing them with the means to leave segregation. The Step-Down program is a therapeutic and educational program that requires inmates to keep journals and attend classes on critical thinking, anger management and substance abuse, with the goal of returning to the general prison population.

“I don’t think there’s an issue with the Step-Down program,” said Kimberly Jenkins-Snodgrass, whose son Kevin is incarcerated at Red Onion. “I think it’s an issue the way it’s been administered.”

Since its inception, the Step-Down program has reduced the number of inmates in segregation at Red Onion from 511 to 160, according to Scott Richenson, deputy director for the division of programs, education and reentry at the Virginia Department of Corrections.

She said that while mistakes have been made in the past, the procedures outlined in the Step-Down program are largely followed.

The documentary was criticized by some who attended the discussion panel for not addressing reform efforts like the Step-Down program at Red Onion. But director Kristi Jacobson said the film was meant to tell a more universal story about solitary confinement and not focus on one specific reform program.

“I think the documentary was more a portrayal of solitary confinement rather than Red Onion in particular, and I appreciate the filmmaker pointing that out,” said Clifton Cauthorne, chaplin at Red Onion State Prison. “The institution is trying to move people to not being in confinement, but as for a portrayal of what it is like to be in solitary, I think she did a good job.”

“SOLITARY: Inside Red Onion State Prison” is available on HBO for the next 30 days.

More on the web

For more information about “SOLITARY: Inside Red Onion State Prison,” including a clip from the documentary, visit www.hbo.com/documentaries/solitary-inside-red-onion-state-prison

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Bluegrass program picked as state’s official TV series

By Amy Lee, Capital News Service

RICHMOND –Virginia has square dancing as the state folk dance and milk as the state beverage. Now it may boast “Song of the Mountains” as the state television series. On Thursday, the Senate passed a bill to add the bluegrass concert TV program to Virginia’s official list of emblems and designations.

The measure, approved by the House of Delegates on Jan. 25, now heads to the governor’s desk.

Del. Jeffrey Campbell, who introduced HB 1927, hails from Marion, where “Song of the Mountains” is taped. Nearly every month, country music artists and a live audience converge at the historic Lincoln Theater in Marion for bluegrass, old-time and Americana jams.

The concert series is taped live and distributed by PBS to more than 120 public television outlets across the country. The show is on its 13th season and has featured local, national and international guest performers.

The Appalachian Music Heritage Foundation, which owns the rights to “Song of the Mountains,” called the series “a strong attraction for visitors from out of town, an economic engine for Historic Downtown Marion and a significant contributor to downtown Marion’s renaissance – a phenomenon that is the envy of so many small towns throughout Virginia and beyond.”

However, “Song of the Mountains” has faced financial problems in the past. The program was once owned by the Lincoln Theatre, and in 2015, the theater’s board began a restructuring of the show in the face of funding troubles. Tim White, longtime host of “Song of the Mountains,” was fired, leading to an outcry from fans and Marion business owners who expressed fears for the future of the program. Eventually, “Song of the Mountains” was acquired by the Appalachian Music Heritage Foundation, and White was reinstated as host.

“Song of the Mountains” draws tourists to Marion and the Lincoln Theatre every season, but bluegrass aficionados in Virginia say the music genre is not just limited to the southwest region of Virginia.

“You take people like the Seldom Scene, and they were from around Washington, D.C., and they were instrumental in bringing bluegrass a long way,” said Mike Nicely, a bluegrass musician and board member of the Virginia Folk Music Association.

“There’s bluegrass throughout Northern Virginia and D.C., and there’s a lot of roots that come out of that area. I’m not saying it doesn’t come out of Southern Virginia and it doesn’t come out of the mountains, because it does, but it really comes from all over,” Nicely said.

Virginia has two state songs – “Sweet Virginia Breeze” (the official “popular” song) and “Our Great Virginia” (the official “traditional” song). “Song of the Mountains” would be the only representation of bluegrass and country music on the state’s list of “official emblems and designations.”

It would join such symbols of Virginia as the northern cardinal (the state bird) and dogwood (tree) as well as the big-eared bat (Virginia’s official bat), Nelsonite (the state rock) and performances of “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” in Big Stone Gap (the official outdoor drama).

For Nicely, the General Assembly’s designation of “Song of the Mountains” as Virginia’s official television series is part of an upward trend of bluegrass music’s popularity, spurred by the genre’s humble roots.

“A lot of bluegrass music is based on true stories that’ve happened to people over the last couple hundred of years,” Nicely said. “A lot of songs have been written about different things that have happened – tragedies and so on that people have written about. That’s a lot of bluegrass, a lot of storytelling. It’s just an interesting part of history of the nation.”

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